FCC Sets Comment Deadline On Program Access Query

Topic Is Whether To Consider Withholding Co-owned RSNs Presumptively Unfair
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The Federal Communications Commission has set a Dec. 17 deadline for final comments on various proposals related to its revision of program-access rules, including key proposals backed by the American Cable Association.

On Oct. 5, the FCC voted to sunset its ban on exclusive contracts between MVPDs and co-owned programming networks, complaints about which will now be handled under the existing prohibition on unfair practices (section 628[b]).

At the same time, and as a way to address the concerns of small cable operators, the commission issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on various other possible changes, including a proposal to change the FCC's definition of "buying group" to allow the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to file program access complaints without assuming collective liability for all of its members, and a variety of rebuttable presumptions related to exclusive contracts, both proposals backed by the American Cable Association.

The rebuttable presumptions, which effectively put the onus on distributors to prove the presumptions wrong, included one on withholding regional sports nets (RSNs), that there be standstills during complaints about RSNs, that a similar presumption should be applied to national sports networks--like ESPN or NBC Sports Net--and on whether prior successful complaints should be cause for a rebuttable presumption of unfairness in future complaints involving the same company.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has argued against adding a series of presumptions of unfairness that it suggests would amount to reinstating the ban the FCC just got finished lifting.

Initial comments are due Nov. 30, with replies due Dec. 17.